I might actually be among the last foodies, and food bloggers, in town to try Tippling Club. While I’ve known about this ultra-modern gastrobar since it opened a year ago, my darling wife S and I had not, until recently, been inspired to visit this somewhat controversial restaurant. I say “controversial” because any time that it came up in conversation among foodie friends, spirited debates would inevitably ensue. Some friends argued that the food was self-indulgent, far too expensive for what it was, and that the structure in which the restaurant is housed is little more than an air conditioned lean-to. Other friends said that Chef Ryan Clift, formerly of Melbourne’s Vue du Monde, was one of the most talented chefs working in Singapore today. They held fast that while the food had its highs and lows, the highs were higher than those of any other chef in town.
The one thing that all of my friends did agree on was that the combined food and cocktail menu was a little too expensive and not really necessary. Yes, we all appreciate the hard work and skill put in by award-winning mixologist Matthew Bax, the other luminary sharing centre stage with Chef Ryan. And I, especially, love a fabulously well-made cocktail as an apertif or digestif, i.e. before or after my meal. But we all agreed that we’d like to eat our food paired with nothing more than a nice bottle of wine or two — and not with a different cocktail paired with each and every course.
Recently, S and I decided it was high time we tried Tippling Club. To be honest, the venue was suggested by a friend we were hosting to lunch. But we thought it was a grand idea. The venue, to my surprise, was much more than the “gussied-up shed” that some friends had complained about. I’ve always been a fan of somewhat industrial spaces and I have to say, I really like the pared-down, almost temporary but still chic design of the restaurant. Most of the seats are placed around a large counter, which provide fabulous views of the front half of the open kitchen. There are a few small tables strewn around the room, but I think to really appreciate Tippling Club, seats at the bar are de rigueur.
I have to also say, the food was more deftly and smartly prepared, and much less experimental than I thought it would be. Because of reviews I had read and feedback from friends, I went to lunch fearing a feast of foam and chemical gels, which would leave me hungry, poor and uninspired. Instead, Chef Ryan produced a menu that S and I found charming, well thought-out and extremely well cooked. It was, in sum, pretty damned delicious.
We started our meal with what I have learnt is the restaurant’s current standard amuse-bouche: Carbonated “bourbon” grapes; fried calamari rings with a curly straw filled with a basil emulsion that tasted like a green curry sauce; and char-grilled green peppers served with a miso soy foam (dip) (pictured at the top of the blog). The grapes were fun. The squid and sauce a pleasurable mouthful. And the peppers and dip (when you learnt not to use too much of the very savoury foam) were delicious and also fun.
Having fun is an often over-looked part of fine dining. And something more restaurants and chefs should revisit when planning menus and coming up with new dishes. One of the great hallmarks of Thomas Keller’s (of French Laundry and Per Se fame) cuisine is that it is both technically perfect but also whimsical. His food is fun. And eating it often makes you smile or laugh. While Chef Ryan has a few more years to go before I’d say he’s the equivalent of a Keller, I would say he’s one of the few chefs in town who is able to inject a similar sense of fun into his superbly executed food.
Our first course was Chef’s 62 degrees Celsius egg, served with dried bacon, parmesan, tomato and garlic bread. It was a lovely, humourous and delicious dish. Unfortunately I could not get a good picture of it (I should say that all of the pix in this post were taken with my Nokia e71 — I had forgotten to pack a proper camera). Next was Surf Clam Dashi, with basil seed, cucumber and dashi broth. I loved this dish. It was really beautiful. And it tasted great. The clams and the thin slices of raw scallop were super-fresh and the various flavours of the dish came through marvelously.
For our Foie Gras course, Chef Ryan asked if we wanted to try a dish he was still testing out. We readily agreed. It was a foie gras mousse cylinder, inside of which was a tart red cherry coulis. This was served with gingerbread crumbs and an edible “instant sponge”. I loved watching the dark red cherry sauce ooze out of the foie gras when I cut into it. I also really liked the contrast of sweet and salty in this dish as well as the contrast of textures.
Next was a small piece of roasted pork belly (my favourite cut of my favourite meat), served with roasted scallops, braised walnuts, grapes and spiced pumpkin. The pork belly, which was fork tender, was topped with a crispy popcorn crust. The only not-so-perfect part of this dish was the scallops, cooked just a tad more than I like (I like my scallops rare).
Dessert looked simple but was deceptively complex. On the plate was a thin, snake-like twist of chocolate mousse, dehydrated coconut, chocolate dirt, crushed peanuts, candied coconut and coconut sorbet. It was a very interesting dessert. S declared, “This is just the right amount of chocolate mousse that any dessert should have.”
At S$125 per person for this 6 course menu, a meal at Tippling Club will certainly be outside of the reach of many Singaporeans. Bear in mind that the 6 course menu is also (outside of the set lunch which didn’t seem worth ordering) the smallest of the tasting menus on offer. There are also 11 course and 17 course degustations available. All menus come with the option of paired cocktails, at a hefty surcharge. That said, S and I had a great time at Tippling Club and left fans of Chef Ryan. It’s a fun restaurant with brilliantly executed, fun food. Which makes it perfect for couples looking for a laid-back and yet exciting, chic gastronomic night out on the town. We’ve already decided that we’re going back for a “date night” whenever Chef Ryan launches his next menu.
8D Dempsey Road
Tel: 6475 2217